Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Object work

This happens every time, and it happened again today.

Simple commercial audition, pretty straightforward ("male, open on race, accent neutral, warm, friendly, likable, trustworthy, relatable, relatively fit and vital"), the usual shot-in-the-dark chance of getting it, just a single line to deliver. And I give it to them a couple of ways, nice and natural and non-announcery.

Then we put the product in my hand and I do it again. Same basic delivery, simple and clean.

Then I get out of the room and realize that I never did anything with the product. I mean, I held it up just fine, but I never really looked at it or referenced it or anything. Obviously, you don't have to do a Vanna White presentational thing, but when you're talking about the product that you're holding in your hand, it's kind of natural to, you know, at least physically refer to it with a glance or a small gesture or something. 


Monday, March 30, 2009

Digital display

The Cliffs of Etretat
Normandy, France, 1998

I spent the weekend going through five giant photo albums and individually scanning, uploading, captioning and organizing old photos. I got about 50 favorites done out of, I don't know, 1,200 total photos? Oy.

My mother asked me over the holidays when I was snapping some camera phone pics what I do with these photos in my phone and on my computer. And it occurred to me how much better electronic photos are. I have no need to print pictures anymore, unless I want one for framing or something. They're much easier to organize, and more fun to look at, on the computer, or even on the TV screen. They're three, four, five times as big, much sharper and more detailed, and I can organize them into slide shows with transitions and even music from iTunes. All in a tiny fraction of the time it takes to make a physical album.

Even before I had a digital camera, which I just got, I would order up CDs with electronic copies of my prints. But that just gets me through the last decade or so. There's a whole other quarter century's worth in albums and boxes and elsewhere. This is when a personal assistant would really come in handy ...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Child's play II

Park City, Utah

Among the circle of adults I run with -- actors, online friends, etc. -- it's quite common to read comic books, watch cartoon movies and play video games. And yet they almost universally hate (and complain about) snow.

I love snow. I hate those other things. What gives? I know it sounds a little judgy, but for me it's the difference between being childish and childlike. I know which side I'm on.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I've been marketing myself all around lately, what with the economic cataclysm and all. One tactic I've been using is going through records from my past commercial and industrial and photo shoots and targeting the marketing and ad agencies who did them to introduce this other side of my life (the business side). It's hit and miss, but I had a really good meeting this week.

The CEO of this small/boutique agency said he gets a couple of hundred emails A DAY (could that be right?) from people looking for freelance work, but mine stood out. Partly, I think, because I sent an actual letter in the actual US mail. But also because I took the time to look over their website, found that their approach/philosophy was really close to my own and discussed that in my letter. I also enclosed this really awesome marketing piece I did for another client.

So I met with him and then with the creative director. It turns out they may not have a lot of freelance writing work, but he's got a couple of other things cooking -- a potential client prospect for me and some help editing a book he's writing. I had noticed that a number of my old colleagues had published books lately (business books), and these guys said it's almost like an expected thing now, for credibility. Every agency that has a point of view or philosophy is writing a book about it and getting it published to demonstrate their bona fides.

I've had a little experience with this. A client of mine has been working on a memoir for some time. He has no intention of getting it published -- he just wants to get some of his (very fascinating) life experiences down on paper. I helped him out by commenting on a couple of chapters, and he said he found the input really useful, but the process kind of stalled. He's got so much going on.

But this one could be interesting. The other felt more like a favor for a friend -- because he's an awesome client, and the book was just a personal project. This could turn into something. And lead to some other good things.

AND, just as I'm writing this post I got an email from a guy I met with last week -- a corporate communications VP for a big Chicago-based company. He's putting me in touch with this colleague of his at an agency that needs a speechwriter for a client.

It's time consuming, and sometimes disappointing, but networking really can work sometimes. And lead to unexpected things.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gay men are quieter

Okay, I haven't proven this assertion, but it does make for a provocative title.

For a couple of years I lived under a guy named Stompy (psst: not his real name!). It was absolute hell, until he finally got a girlfriend and moved out. Then, thanks to the ravaged economy, I had a good six months or so of utter peace.

Then there were stirrings. People going in and out, escorted by other people with official-looking clipboards. The maintenance guy uncharacteristically doing maintenance. So I knew it was a matter of time before the jig was up.

"Let whoever moves in be a daysleeper," I thought. Or someone whose SO has a far nicer apartment. Or, I don't know, someone who hovers. No more poor students who NEVER leave!

Then I came to sense by the footfalls that it was a couple moving in. Oh no, twice the noise! Twice the chance someone will always be home! The only thing worse would be a woman. Sorry, women are LOUD. And they wear very loud shoes. Which they like to kick off and across the room at 3 in the morning.

But neither turned out to be a woman. They're both men. I assume they're gay, but maybe not. Maybe they're just ... really close. Which is what you pretty much have to be in a one bedroom apartment.

So then my thought was, oh no! Loud techno music at all hours! People coming in at 4 or 5 am! Who knows what else?

But I have been very pleasantly surprised. These boys must be Amish. I don't hear a peep. No TV, no radio, no stereo. No catfights. And they glide across the floor like ... wood sprites. So utterly quiet!

It actually makes me resent Stompy even more, because even though the floors and ceilings here are ridiculously old and creaky and thin and uninsulated, it turns out it truly was in his power to not sound like a bag of bowling balls bouncing across the hardwood.

So now I'm tip-toeing around trying to be an equally good (read: quiet) neighbor. Keeping the TV down. Trying not to hit snooze too many times. Anything to preserve this precious, precious peace.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Okay, I put it all together -- the full reel -- and managed to get it down to 2 minutes and 21 seconds. It's rough, and the transitions are sucky-to-non-existent, blah, blah, blah. But it's a start, at least until I get professional help/intervention.

I would almost say it's better than nothing, but I don't know that that's true. A truly bad reel can be worse than nothing. I think I'll run it by my agent just to see if she thinks there's enough material there for a professional to turn into a real reel -- and to see, indeed, if the whole process is even necessary.

I tried to balance the two things I get called for the most -- quirky, funny guy and professional narrator/host. There are still two videos I'm trying to track down from the latter category to beef that section up. But, again, I don't even know what I'm doing here and can only guess at what might be a proper balance.

In spite of all that, it's kinda fun to have. And if someone does in the meantime want to see a reel I can always say, "This isn't a reel, per se, but a collection of samples so you can at least get a sense of what I can do." And when I'm in my rocker in the Old Failed Actors Home, it will be nice to cue up once in a while on the ol' holographic image virtualizer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Factory town

300 block, North Ogden Street
Friday afternoon

Awesome sights like this are what make Chicago cool. Big ol' industrial silo type thing, just a mile or so northwest of the Willis (nee Sears) Tower. 

There's a steel plant right on the edge of one of the toniest neighborhoods, where passersby gawk through the big open doors at sparking molten metal being poured into big vats. A candy factory right outside the Loop that makes all of downtown smell like chocolate when the wind is blowing right. An active concrete plant a mile off the Magnificent Mile, where river barges pull up and deliver crushed stone and sand and stuff.

It's nothing at all like where I came from (DC), where there's no real heavy industry. Of course, every year I live here probably a takes a week or two off my life expectancy. A small price to pay for such ambiance.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reel world

I've been fiddling around with the videos, reading up on what goes into a commercial reel. One of the things I saw was that some people open with a montage. This is way too long for an opening. At 43 seconds it's probably half or a third the length of what the whole thing should be.

Anyway, I have no intention of doing this myself. I'm not good enough, technically, nor objective enough to pick the good from the bad nor even knowledgeable enough to know what should really go on here. But if I do do this, then I have at least made the job easier for the producer by gathering together five or six minute of usable clips in one place and one format.

But I don't even know if I'm going to make a reel. I'm not sure I need it. The casting people here know me and my agents haven't made an issue of it. So I think I'll only do it when I find some extra money lying around. Besides, my agents do want me to get a comp card, so that's probably the next investment.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Magic time

I checked in with the studio that did the photography for that amazing photo shoot last week. I just wanted to make sure I had a contact to follow up with when the final product -- a photo or tear sheet of the ad -- becomes available.

They told me it would be several MONTHS. Because they're doing a lot of CGI on it, which is hilarious. During the shoot I was hugging a big bag of styrofoam peanuts that are eventually going to be turned into an armful of tears. The good kind of tears, not the sad ones. Tears that provide relief, thanks to this awesome prescription eye product.

I can't imagine something -- anything -- like that taking months to do. I guess I know very little about CGI. Is it like the computer in No Way Out that ran all day and all night for days to turn a grainy Polaroid negative into Kevin Costner? Or is someone in there every day tinkering on a computer screen for 8 hours straight? Or people in Malaysia or India working around the clock?

I don't know, but that is one job I would probably be very bad at. Patience, precision, concentration -- not my strong suits.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Random photos from Forgottenland


Sometimes I find random photos on my phone that I don't remember taking. The crazy fools dancing around at a Factory party. Interior of the Belmont bus at 3 am. And these. It was after an industry function with some clients. I came home and snapped the above photo of myself. I guess I thought I was looking pretty hot in that suit.

(Also notable is that you can see all THREE of my bedroom mirrors in just one photo. And actually, there's a fourth there on the dresser. Not a mirror, per se, in that you don't use it for gazing, but an antique silver tray thing with a mirror top. Four mirrors! That's the kind of furnishing decision made by the kind of person who takes photos of himself.)

Anyway, I can't imagine what would have caused me to forget taking that photo. Unless it was the champagne and other stuff from that night, as depicted below, in another photo I didn't know I took.

Late night, Pops for Champagne

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Like the weather

Chicago, 72 degrees

The first time I visited Chicago, back in 1991 or '92, I was thrilled and amazed by so many things -- the energy on the streets (compared to DC), the architecture, the people. And the weather. Every day it was different. We had rain and wind and cold and sun, and we were staying with some people high up in a condo and I got to watch the different weather roll in each day.

If the weather could change every day I'd be happy. Today was in the '70s, tomorrow's going to be back in the '40s. In fact, if we don't get another good snow before the winter's out I'll be disappointed. Extreme heat, extreme cold, hard rain, heavy snow, high winds, dense fog, clear sun -- I love it all. But mostly I like it to keep on moving, keep on changing.

I need to be more like the weather. Sometimes I let my life move like a glacier.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lend me your comb

I've gotten lots of weird instructions for auditions, but this is the first time I've been told to comb my hair. I don't think I've combed my hair in 15 years. I guess they meant "neat and presentable," because they also requested we be clean shaven. Which is a drag, because my facial hair just grew back in from last week's gig.

So cleanshaven authentic Midwestern guy audition went fine. Though I think the shaving had some kind of Samson effect on my performance.

Before that was a really fun audition where it just so happens I was paired up with a guy I did improv classes with several years ago. He's a great guy and super funny and we were able to project some instant chemistry with each other, which was good because they were looking for people to make it loose and funny and improv-y. I'm five years older than the top of the range, though, so unless shaving took that many years off my appearance, it's probably a longshot.

But it's always satisfying to do good work.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The gift that keeps on giving

So last night I got a totally unexpected viewing of the Harris spot while I was watching 30 Rock. Which is great, because it hardly ever appears on shows I regularly watch. Plus, being on a really premo show like that is awesome. And finally, I'd heard that they'd mostly been rotating a different spot in, so I thought mine was over.

Then I got a call from my agent and they had two pretty nice residual checks for me, which also points to an upswing. And hell, they've got the rights through 2010, so let's hope they keep on exercising those rights.

I think I need to change my bank. Go Harris.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Relax, it's Palmolive!

Chalk up another major life experience. There was skydiving, hot air ballooning, singing on stage, and now ... manicure.

They made me do it. For the photo shoot. The nail tech there gave me the full treatment -- exfoliation, then she stuck my hands in plastic bags then stuffed them into electric heated mittens. Weird. 

And apparently I have ridged nails. Which apparently is an undesirable thing. She filed and buffed them down and shined them up and, I swear, they kinda hurt today. A little.

Other than that, the photo shoot went great. My biceps were too big in the clingy sweater, which is nice to hear. I guess it was distracting from the product, so they're going to fix them in post. Seriously. And they were amazed at my ability to laugh on command, a skill that makes me feel like I'm really shallow. (When I first started doing these photo shoots I would think hard about something funny. Now it's total Pavlov -- they say laugh and I'm in stitches.)

All in all, an awesome day. Three or four more just like that one and I should be all set for the year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Go ahead, pinch me

I alluded to this job I'm doing today a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't want to get into it too much because I could barely believe it and I didn't want to jinx it.

But today's the day and I saw the actual paperwork yesterday with the figures in black and white and so it actually is happening. It's this print job that pays ... an amazing amount. Like five-to-six times my best paying print job ever. And more than ten times what I'm usually paid. Almost as much as I made all of last year with all my acting jobs combined.

It involves exclusivity -- I can't do any other products in this area for a couple of years, but that's fine with me. But even without that bonus, the usage rate itself is pretty damned extraordinary. In a convo last week with My Pretend Nemesis, who was actually up for the job himself, it didn't seem like it was that unusual an arrangement. For him, at least. For me it's gold.

Still not sure why they picked me. I actually use the product -- it's a prescription eye drop -- which I told them in the audition because they had a questionnaire there. So maybe that's why. Hard to believe it's about my look, because they had me shave and I won't be using my glasses. Maybe it's because it's the same photographer that was doing the aborted Ghostface Killah gig and they liked my enthusiasm (and genuine regret when it was canceled).

Or maybe, just maybe, I RULE!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I will get the job I auditioned for today. Not because I prepared well, and not because I nailed it, and not because the guy said I had a really good look for the job. No, my confidence has nothing to do with any of that.

It's because it's in Dubuque. This weekend. Requiring a Friday night stay.

Mark my words.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Stay or go

Another spring arrives and another decision about whether to move. I hate moving. I hate planning to move. But I'm always looking for a better deal.

I should feel pretty good as it is. Taking advantage of the last downturn in the early part of the decade and through a couple of shrewd moves, I've gotten my rent down to a ridiculously low level. If I renew my lease I will be paying just 16% more than I did when I signed my first lease in Chicago 14 years ago. Yes, that was downtown -- but now I have triple the space.

But now I'm thinking, how cool would it be to lower my monthly payment by almost 20%? I have that opportunity, but there would be some trade-offs. AND some cool pluses. A back yard. Central air. Responsible management. Pipes that don't freeze.

Of course, if I had my druthers, I'd be lowering it 50% through what the adults call a co-habitation-type arrangement. But that's not in the cards. At least not this year. Which is too bad. It's something I never in my life wanted seriously until a couple of years ago, but now ... well, it would be nice. (And not just because of the cost savings.)

Anyway, I probably won't do it. There are a few very important things here I haven't found in another place. A perfect location, lots of space, and lots of light.

But who knows how I'll feel in a few days when the place above me is occupied again for the first time in many, many months. It's been SOOO peaceful since Stompy up and left!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

We have a wiener!

Another in that series of little corporate video wraparounds we did. Winner's Circle/Wieners Circle. That was my inspiration. And the ending showcases a proper use of my "what's that smell" face.

One thing as I look these over is how off-book I was! No TelePrompter, no cue cards. I guess it helps when you're performing your own words, but it shows that I probably spend too much time working on lines for auditions. If I just loosen up and not worry about getting the exact wording right it would allow me to focus more on the actual performing instead of the Total Recalling.

Wieners Circle is a blast, and a real Chicago institution, where the staff insults and berates you. Long ago they tagged me as "Richard Gere," as in "WTF do you want, f*cking Richard Gere?"

Lucky the hot dogs are so good, including this one. Acting! THANK YOU!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Born to be Wild

Another result from my ongoing effort to digitize and organize the small stack of commercials and industrials I've done.

This one here represents my ideal vision for my career -- using my Second City, acting and writing training on behalf of my business clients. A convergence, if you will, of the Arts and Business sides of my life. My buddy and colleague Steve came to me with this project, and together we created this character ("Successful Stewart") and wrote up a series of comic sketches and bits, which I also performed. They were then incorporated into the global training program for the company's top sales people.

So many great things about this project. It's fun to write for yourself, and to perform what you've written. And it's particularly awesome to name your own price for an acting gig (and to keep all the money).

I'll post others as I get them edited. I've finally figured out how to burn multiple chapters from a DVD. Now if I can just get iMovie to produce a quality copy once I've edited out the extraneous (and proprietary) stuff ...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A pretty good shoot

My Nemesis!

Yesterday I shot a little local commercial, and it was a pretty decent day. Not very lucrative by any means. But it was downtown (so no hoofing it to the suburbs), it was relatively short (8 hours), and it was with a fun group of actors and an appreciative bunch of producers and clients. All of that can pretty much make up for the low paycheck.

It was for a wine store -- a chain of wine stores actually -- and the seven of us were playing couples on dates, and on double dates and groups of friends at New Year's and other events. The non-actors were especially impressed at our ability to laugh uproariously on command, and make like lovers with virtual strangers. And that's how my acting best stacks up -- when measured by non-actors.

That's sort of a cool thing about these jobs. You put all these different people together and we manage to act like we've been friends for years. Sometimes we are, but mostly it's just we're all used to being thrown in with each other at countless auditions and gigs and we all have the same issues and frustrations and gripes so it's pretty easy to close any gaps quickly.

And it's not at all cutthroat. In fact, I'd say the commercial scene here is more collegial than the theater scene. At least the commercial people don't normally take themselves too seriously.

One of the guys in my group is my Nemesis. Not really, but he's this guy about my age who is at just about every audition I go out on. He books a TON because he's good and good-looking, and very all-American dad-next-door. So usually when we audition for the same thing the client sees kind of a range. I've gotten a few jobs he's gone out for (including a print shoot next week) and he's gotten many that I've gone out for.

Anyway, it was the first time we actually worked together on a job since we first met on a photo shoot several years ago.

The producers were the same group who did the holiday spot. This time I made a special point to not smile TOO gaily, and to not be glib, which I thought showed through on that spot. At least it did to me and people who know me. We'll see if I succeeded.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Easy come ... not so easy go

I came upon a hundred dollars cash tonight. It was unexpected, unearned and, if I was a better man, would have been unaccepted.

But I took it. I mean, it's not like I had to degrade myself or anything. Nothing illegal, nothing in an alley, nothing on my knees. Just ... I don't know. Not quite right. On the other hand, accepting it was, in a way, a proper consequence for the person so recklessly doling it out. So, yes, I took it.

Then, standing at the bus, I was hit up by a homeless guy asking for "two dollars." I don't usually give anything to the homeless, on the pretense that my charitable donations are more safely expended and efficiently used by established, legitimate charitable organizations. Not that I give a ton to them, either.

Anyway, the perfect ending to this story is me handing that homeless guy my unearned 100-dollar bill. But that's not what happened. I gave him the one single I had. A single dollar bill. Which is a dollar more than I normally give. A dollar less than he asked for. Maybe or maybe not a dollar more than he deserved. Maybe or maybe not 99 less than I could afford.

I don't know. Times are tough. And, in spite of all this, I actually do find myself giving more than I've ever given -- to theaters, to charities, to sick friends. I guess I kind of feel like, I understand exactly how tough things are. And maybe helping others out will make some other peoples' lives a little easier and, who knows, bring some needed karma.

But I probably should have given him the five he spotted and asked for. But I didn't. I did not.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Oooh that smell ...

This is my "what's that smell?" face, an expression I wear pretty frequently, if the hours of video I've been watching are any guide.

One of my goals for the year was to track down, collect, organize and digitize as many of my commercials and industrials as I could find. 

It's an involved process. Never mind the "getting," which is hard enough. Only occasionally do the producers send you copies, so you usually have to hound them. And for the bank spot I had to pay 30 bucks just to get a copy made.

Then, once I get a hold of them, the real work begins. I'm learning a lot doing it by the seat of my pants. Downloading freeware that turns DVDs into mpegs, then some other freeware that converts those into a language that iMovie can understand so I can then edit them down and cut out the extraneous stuff, then the uploading to Facebook or YouTube, etc.

But even that's not the hardest part. The hardest part is watching them. My only "real" on-camera coaching was a series of one-on-one sessions with a guy who's a former Chicago talent agent and is now living and working in LA. In those few hours with him I learned quite a bit. But a few of these reminded me of a comment he made that I apparently did not take to heart. 

He said I had this habit of making this weird face -- like I just smelled something funny. And now, of course, that's all I see. I've really got to work on this. I wonder how many jobs that expression has lost me? Or dates? Good god!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The road ahead

It would be nice to have a crystal ball to see whether this downturn is going to last one or two years or a decade. Knowing that would have a big impact on my current decision-making.

I am moving toward a major life change -- something that was sparked a couple of years ago and, in an epic case of bad timing, crystallized right around the time of the economic collapse. Anyway, I am looking at opportunities out in the big, bad real world. Some have come along, but I'm being picky, which I hope I can afford to be. But at this point, I have no interest in commuting to Hoffman Estates or Northbrook. Four hours a day in a car would absolutely crush my soul.

The whole process has got me thinking of past opportunities -- the whole "road not taken" thing. There was a job in London, which in many ways could have been awesome. But I'd just started out on my own and was not ready to go back to a permanent position. In retrospect, that was likely the right choice. Less than a year later, the firm went under, as a result of the Enron thing.

Then there was the sweet job in New York, a place I'd love to live. Great money, a position where I could really make an impact, a prestigious Big 5 firm. But I'd just started acting and wasn't ready to give that up -- I would have been plagued forever with "what ifs."

There was a position in Milwaukee, but I learned from doing time in Columbus that the only people who would be more miserable than me in such an arrangement would be those around me. No more small towns. And by small, I mean less that 3-4 million people, which leaves only a couple of places in the U.S. to live. Chicago, New York ... maybe San Francisco (which has charms that outweigh its relative smallness).

On the other hand, we could all soon be living in cardboard boxes under the expressway with the way things are looking ...